A Deviant Eloquence: The Words of H.H. Holmes By Sara Tantlinger There’s an infamous quote that is easily found on the internet and attributed to the serial killer H.H. Holmes. Perhaps you’ve read it before: “I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no […]
My second poetry collection, The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, is now live on Amazon!
Here’s a sneak peak from one of my poems in the book titled “Scarlet Siege”
Insanity splits through the air
like a serrated knife cleaving
melons in half, juice pools out,
lightly blood-tinged, flowing into
the mob mentality of fair-goers
flies stick to the glistening liquid
churning out tiny spawn to harvest
inside the mind of crowds
stop and sample the new
flavors of candies,
watch in awe as Tesla
sparks electric excitement,
conducting lightning through
his body like a melody,
marvel at the Ferris Wheel,
that monstrosity of a ride
hovering between adrenaline
and a drop straight down to skull-
within the White City’s celebration,
the water stays pure, the air cool,
horrors belong on the outside
where suicides have popped up
like cherry-tinted daisies,
where horses drop dead
in the streets from exhaustion,
muzzled and blinded
they never stood a chance,
where blood runs thick enough
to brew gurgling tarns
around the great fair,
drown all the attendees
beneath a scarlet siege,
consume that split of insanity
cleave the city in half as it bleeds
Coming very soon from Strangehouse Books…
“Tantlinger’s chilling poetry, inspired by life/lies of a serial murderer, unfolds in the imagined voices of his victims, and the man himself, in a city reduced to ashes and rebuilt for him to bleed. The poems entice to try understanding this devil: what does he gain from such horror? In the end, after he is hanged and buried, the haunting last poem plants the idea: evil is more than one man and isn’t easily destroyed.”
—Linda D. Addison, award-winning author of “How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend” and HWA Lifetime Achievement Award winner
“In this morbidly creative and profound crime documentary, Sara Tantlinger delivers one of the best works of horror poetry I’ve read in years. What America’s Ripper, HH Holmes, built with his creatively sick “murder castle” in 1890’s Chicago, Tantlinger creates today with this book, rich with seductive language and unflinchingly exploratory in its multifaceted structure. It’s brilliantly constructed to get inside your skull and pry apart your morbid fascination with life, death, perversion, avarice and murder, awakening you to the evil that hides in plain sight around us all. Readers will thrill to find themselves spilling down its terrifying trapdoors and careening down its greasy dark slides, until they find themselves imprisoned inside the black gloom of a deviant dungeon of nightmarish evil that they’ll never be able to forget…or escape. An amazing autopsy of the unholy!”
—Michael Arnzen, Bram Stoker Award winning author of Grave Markings and Play Dead
“A fascinating and absolutely riveting journey into the life and times of one H.H. Holmes. Sara Tantlinger’s powerful and vivid prose takes you into the depths of Holmes’ dark universe and what you see will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.”
—Christina Sng, Bram Stoker Award winning author of A Collection of Nightmares
My next poetry collection, The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, will (hopefully) be out in a few weeks! Dr. Holmes and I can’t wait to welcome you into our nightmares…
But for now, I thought I’d list some of my favorite “fun facts” about Holmes that inspired a few pieces in the collection. Holmes is a tricky case — many of the “facts” we assume were actually tall tales that morphed into a kind of accepted truth; however, playing around with those blurred lines and blending historical horror with fictional interpretations was deliciously morbid and fun for me to do in this collection.
1. Holmes was “married” to three women at the same time. Only the first marriage to Clara was legal. He would later go on to “marry” Myrta Belknap and Georgiana Yoke though he had never divorced Clara. Holmes killed several women, including a few mistresses, but he never killed any of his three wives. This inspired my poem “Three Wives Dressed in Black,” which makes an appearance toward the end of the collection as Holmes sits in his jail cell before his public execution.
2. While the rumors and ideas linking H.H. Holmes and Jack the Ripper as the same person are amusing and intriguing to think about, I’d never buy into it. Logistically speaking, from what we know of Holmes and where he was in the states and when, I think he would have had to been able to teleport to truly commit the Ripper’s acts. While some may be able to speak around this, the number one reason I would never credit them as being the same is because of how different their killings were.
The Ripper was vicious and intimate. He literally reached inside of his victims and had his fun with their organs or slicing off women’s breasts (I imagine the Ripper is a deeply fascinating case to all the Freudians out there). Holmes was never that intimate or messy. In my head I imagine his neatness likens to that of NBC’s Dr. Lecter on Hannibal. Holmes was cowardly in his approaches though, using chloroform or gassing victims to their deaths. He was more fascinated by the psychological approach, by seducing and charming before quietly extinguishing lives rather than tearing someone apart into a gooey bloodbath. I have two “Holmes vs. The Ripper” poems in my collection, and they were two of my favorite to research and write.
3. While in prison, Holmes wrote two notable texts. One was a rather idyllic memoir that he crafted in hopes to gain public sympathy and to try and convince people that he was
being falsely accused of all these crimes. After that failed to work and he was convicted, Holmes wrote a rather odd “confession,” in which he wrote of murdering people who were in fact proved alive. There are some really interesting analyses out there that go through who he may have actually murdered vs. who he, for some reason, claimed to have killed but did not. I found access to both the memoir and confession, which easily inspired the voice I use for Holmes within my collection, and inspired many poems toward the end within the sections where he’s in prison. What struck me the most was Holmes’ undeniable intelligence and merits of literacy within his writing. An articulate madman with a pen, wielding words with expert manipulation, is truly a frightening thing.
4. Appearance wise, Holmes was considered handsome at the time. His blue eyes get noted often, but I also came across in my research that he may have been cross-eyed, which inspired my poem “Strabismus,” and a few others in the collection. One eye on the victim, one searching elsewhere…studying the shadows…looking for the devil.
5. After leaving Chicago, Holmes eventually went to Texas where he engaged in more money schemes and fraud, as he did in Chicago and elsewhere. He also attempted to construct the Fort Worth Castle, a building similar in strangeness and massiveness to the famed “Murder Castle” in Chicago. By this time, numerous lawyers, unpaid workers, and members of law enforcement were trying to find Holmes to get some answers for their missing payments. Holmes would leave Texas, soon after embarking on the wild chase across the states that would lead to his arrest, but of course not without a few more dead bodies along the way. I have a section of poems in my book that go through this chess board pursuit, and I can’t wait to take you along for the ride.
So wait patiently. Buy your train ticket. The good doctor is already there, seated quietly in first class, drinking his tea and eyeing you as you walk past…one eye on you, the other on the shadows…searching…waiting…
Ladies, I want your monsters. Announcing NOT ALL MONSTERS, an anthology to be released by Strangehouse Books in the fall of 2020 that I am editing!
There are monsters in every woman’s life. And while maybe not ALL monsters are so bad, I want you to tell me about the dark and twisted ones. Give me protagonists who take no shit. Show me women who save themselves. Does the hero slay the beast, or is she the monster? All types of monsters, protagonists, and antagonists are welcome here. I am looking for speculative fiction containing strong prose with character-driven stories that convey powerful messages. I am particularly drawn to the beautiful grotesque, gothic elements, the macabre, and poetic prose, but I welcome all well-crafted stories to be submitted.
All writers who identify as women are welcome to submit.
Submissions open on November 1st, 2018 and will remain open until our approximate word count has been met.
Manuscript formatting should follow the Shunn style
Send submissions to: email@example.com
Expected word count: ~90K
Stories should be a minimum of 2K and up to 8K
NO multiple submissions
NO simultaneous submissions
See the rest of the guidelines here.
In 2015 I watched a documentary on Netflix titled H.H. Holmes: America’s First Serial Killer. I took notes, fascinated, wanting to do something with this savagely strange killer…a couple years, an MFA degree, and some publications later, I finally found precious time to sit down and research Holmes for my next poetry collection, The Devil’s Dreamland: Poetry Inspired by H.H. Holmes, which should be out later this year.
So until then, let me offer you some Valentines, H.H. Holmes style, while I continue researching and writing and dreaming in the darkness. Who better to do romance than a serial killer doctor who had three wives at once, courted mistresses, and stuffed some of them into trunks after killing them?
Actually, a couple years ago the Pittsburgh ScareHouse featured a Holmes “murder hotel” theme in their Basement that I went to for Valentine’s Day. You had to sign a waiver before entering since the Basement allows the actors to touch you. Thus, I was electrocuted, blindfolded, shoved in a safe, slightly strangled, chained up by the H.H. Holmes actor, and more! It was great!
Please enjoy these love notes from my muse, this strange, manipulatively charming,
swindler of a man…or, of a devil, as he would have you know….Try these out on your loved ones and let me know how it goes.
*Roses are red, your lips are blue, I’ll hide your body so well, and poison your daughter, too. For Julia and Pearl
*I want to strip off your clothes and your skin
*With a body like that, you’d make a beautiful research cadaver
*I’ve never met anyone like you. Be my fourth wife? No, it’s okay, I left them alive and only killed the mistresses. I swear!
*Love isn’t refundable, now sign your property and life insurance over to me
-(Holmes was a notorious conman and loved money)
*What’s the key to your heart? *pulls out dissection knife*
*Love is like chloroform, sweet-smelling at first, but then you wake up naked and chained in the basement…
P.s. Artist Holly Carden designed this cool as hell illustration of the Murder Castle here. You should check it out.
The doctor and I bid you farewell, for now. We can’t wait to invite you back into the nightmare dreamland later…
Next month I’ll be headed to Lovecraft’s home town of Providence for StokerCon 2018. I attended my first StokerCon last year in Long Beach, CA, so I’m excited to be attending again (and to have a much shorter flight this time around — LAX is actually made of nightmares). Here’s what I’ll be participating in:
Friday, March 2nd, 11a.m. — Reading Block: I’m ecstatic to be reading my work at a conference for the first time. My reading block is with Randy D. Rubin and Scott Edelman — good stuff! It’s sure to be a wonderful and weird time.
Saturday, March 3rd, noon, — Women In Horror Month Panel: I can’t wait to talk about my favorite ladies in horror and gush about their work, influence, and inspiration. This panel is with Amber Newberry, Kathleen Scheiner, Linda Addison, Meghan Acruri-Moran, and moderated by Carol Gyzander.
Saturday, March 3rd, 3:00pm, — Terrifying Teaching Tactics Panel: Horror in the classroom? Oh yes. This panel is going to be a blast, and I’ll be chatting with Frazer Lee, Heather Herrman, Tom F. Monteleone, and the madness is moderated by Mike Arnzen.
Saturday, March 3rd, 4:00pm, — Breaking Barriers with Horror Poetry Panel: Poetry is one of my favorite things to write, talk about, and study, so I’m thrilled to be on this panel with John Edward Lawson, Marge Simon, Randy D. Rubin, and Stephanie Wytovich, moderated by the brilliant Linda Addison.
In between all of this, I can’t wait to attend workshops, classes, a pitch session, see old friends, and fangirl over some of the writers who will be attending this year. See you all at the Biltmore!